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Khabibulin wasted no time deciding to join Oilers

Thursday, 07.02.2009 / 6:12 PM / 2009 NHL Offseason News

By John Kreiser - Columnist

Nikolai Khabibulin didn't spend a lot of time making up his mind to become an Edmonton Oiler.

"It happened very quickly -- an hour, hour and a half," the 36-year-old goaltender said during a conference call with the media on Thursday, one day after agreeing to a four-year contract with the Oilers. "My agent called after Edmonton offered the deal. We thought about it a little bit and decided to go with it.

"Edmonton made such a big commitment. There weren't too many opportunities out there for such a long term."

Khabibulin spent the past four seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. His best season was the most recent -- in 2008-09, he won back the starting job after the Hawks signed Cristobal Huet during the summer, led Chicago to its first playoff berth since 2002 and was a key to the Blackhawks' run to the Western Conference Finals. Khabibulin finished the regular season with a 25-8-7 record, a 2.33 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in Chicago.

Prior to joining the Blackhawks, Khabibulin led Tampa Bay to the 2004 Stanley Cup. He feels his experience will benefit the Oilers, who have a number of young players.

"I realized in the playoffs during the past year how much experience means with so many young guys on the team," he said of his time with the Hawks, who have one of the NHL's youngest lineups. "I feel the team here is similar to what we had in Chicago. I think our chances of accomplishing something are really good."

Khabibulin, who started his NHL career in Winnipeg and moved to Phoenix with the franchise in 1996, said the length of the offer from the Oilers made it easy for him to decide to change cities.

"We had some discussions there," he said when asked if the Blackhawks had made him an offer. "We had some one-year offers, but when I had such a long commitment from the Oilers, it was a pretty easy decision to make -- especially going to a Canadian city. It's going to be very exciting.

"Edmonton is a great hockey city. Players want to play in a full building, and when I played here with Tampa Bay and Chicago, the building was always full. It's very exciting. It's going to be a lot of fun."

Khabibulin will fill the No. 1 goaltending job that was vacated when 39-year-old Dwayne Roloson signed a two-year deal with the New York Islanders after rejecting a one-year offer from the Oilers. Edmonton was willing to make a four-year commitment to Khabibulin, and he feels he's in shape to make the deal pay off for both sides.

"I feel really good," Khabibulin said. "The last seven or eight years, I really started to take good care of my body -- a lot of workouts in the summer. I think a lot of goalies, especially lately, have been playing into their 40s.

"I feel pretty young. I feel very confident that I still have a lot of years to play left in me."

Khabibulin excelled in Chicago in 2008-09 after being put on waivers at the start of the season and going unclaimed. He said the season was a learning experience.
"I feel really good," Khabibulin said. "The last seven or eight years, I really started to take good care of my body -- a lot of workouts in the summer. I think a lot of goalies, especially lately, have been playing into their 40s." -- Nikolai Khabibulin

"I learned quite a bit," he said. "I learned you have to fight no matter what. I think the guys in the locker room respect that. I think I developed more character this year because I was constantly fighting for playing time."

Khabibulin won't have to fight for playing time in Edmonton -- his backup figures to be rookie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, who played only a handful of games this past season.

Asked how many games he'd be comfortable playing, he replied: "I think if I can play 60 games at a high level, that would be pretty good. I like to feel that the more I play, the better I play."

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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